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Alexandria And Her Schools Charles Kingsley

Lecture IV--The Cross And The Crescent

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We are told that the might of Islam lay in a certain innate force and savage virtue of the Arab character. If we have discovered this in the followers of Mohammed, they certainly had not discovered it in themselves. They spoke of themselves, rightly or wrongly, as men who had received a divine light, and that light a moral light, to teach them to love that which was good, and refuse that which was evil; and to that divine light they stedfastly and honestly attributed every right action of their lives. Most noble and affecting, in my eyes, is that answer of Saad's aged envoy to Yezdegird, king of Persia, when he reproached him with the past savagery and poverty of the Arabs. "Whatsoever thou hast said," answered the old man, "regarding the former condition of the Arabs is true. Their food was green lizards; they buried their infant daughters alive; nay, some of them feasted on dead carcases, and drank blood; while others slew their kinsfolk, and thought themselves great and valiant, when by so doing they became possessed of more property. They were clothed with hair garments, they knew not good from evil, and made no distinction between that which was lawful and unlawful. Such was our state; but God in his mercy has sent us, by a holy prophet, a sacred volume, which teaches us the true faith."

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These words, I think, show us the secret of Islam. They are a just comment on that short and rugged chapter of the Koran which is said to have been Mohammed's first attempt either at prophecy or writing; when, after long fasting and meditation among the desert hills, under the glorious eastern stars, he came down and told his good Kadijah that he had found a great thing, and that she must help him to write it down. And what was this which seemed to the unlettered camel-driver so priceless a treasure? Not merely that God was one God--vast as that discovery was--but that he was a God "who showeth to man the thing which he knew not;" a "most merciful God;" a God, in a word, who could be trusted; a God who would teach and strengthen; a God, as he said, who would give him courage to set his face like a flint, and would put an answer in his mouth when his idolatrous countrymen cavilled and sneered at his message to them, to turn from their idols of wood and stone, and become righteous men, as Abraham their forefather was righteous.

"A God who showeth to man the thing which he knew not." That idea gave might to Islam, because it was a real idea, an eternal fact; the result of a true insight into the character of God. And that idea alone, believe me, will give conquering might either to creed, philosophy, or heart of man. Each will be strong, each will endure, in proportion as it believes that God is one who shows to man the thing which he knew not: as it believes, in short, in that Logos of which Saint John wrote, that He was the light who lightens every man who comes into the world.

In a word, the wild Koreish had discovered, more or less clearly, that end and object of all metaphysic whereof I have already spoken so often; that external and imperishable beauty for which Plato sought of old; and had seen that its name was righteousness, and that it dwelt absolutely in an absolutely righteous person; and moreover, that this person was no careless self-contented epicurean deity; but that He was, as they loved to call Him, the most merciful God; that He cared for men; that He desired to make men righteous. Of that they could not doubt. The fact was palpable, historic, present. To them the degraded Koreish of the desert, who as they believed, and I think believed rightly, had fallen from the old Monotheism of their forefathers Abraham and Ismael, into the lowest fetishism, and with that into the lowest brutality and wretchedness--to them, while they were making idols of wood and stone; eating dead carcases; and burying their daughters alive; careless of chastity, of justice, of property; sunk in unnatural crimes, dead in trespasses and sins; hateful and hating one another--a man, one of their own people had come, saying: "I have a message from the one righteous God. His curse is on all this, for it is unlike Himself. He will have you righteous men, after the pattern of your forefather Abraham. Be that, and arise, body, soul, and spirit, out of your savagery and brutishness. Then you shall be able to trample under font the profligate idolaters, to sweep the Greek tyrants from the land which they have been oppressing for centuries, and to recover the East for its rightful heirs, the children of Abraham." Was this not, in every sense, a message from God? I must deny the philosophy of Clement and Augustine, I must deny my own conscience, my own reason, I must outrage my own moral sense, and confess that I have no immutable standard of right, that I know no eternal source of right, if I deny it to have been one; if I deny what seems to me the palpable historic fact, that those wild Koreish had in them a reason and a conscience, which could awaken to that message, and perceive its boundless beauty, its boundless importance, and that they did accept that message, and lived by it in proportion as they received it fully, such lives as no men in those times, and few in after times, have been able to live. If I feel, as I do feel, that Abubekr, Omar, Abu Obeidah, and Amrou, were better men than I am, I must throw away all that Philo--all that a Higher authority--has taught me: or I must attribute their lofty virtues to the one source of all in man which is not selfishness, and fancy, and fury, and blindness as of the beasts which perish.

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Alexandria And Her Schools
Charles Kingsley

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